Later hours at work meant an early opportunity to enjoy a mid-morning masters practice. Unsure of which lane to put myself into, I waited for direction from the coach.
“You and Ann will swim nicely together,” the coach said to me, pointing me towards the lane with filled with who I assumed was Ann.
“Hi, I’m Ann!” she pleasantly announced herself. She was probably in her early 40’s, with a bubbly, bouncy, friendly, welcoming, warm way about her. I wanted to swim with her, I wanted to be friends with her, I wanted to talk with her within a minute of meeting her.
“Elizabeth is the fastest person in shoes on this team,” the coach added, “and second fastest in the water.” The first part contained a small degree of truth, but the latter part was pure bullshit.
“Oh, a runner!” Ann exclaimed. “I used to enjoy running, too, but then after having 3 kids my boobs exploded to four times their starting size,” she said looking down at her boobs and then looking back up at me.
Wondering if I already had water in my ears, I thought to myself she did not just say the word boob. Most swimmers won’t even tell me their name when I jump in their lane, most just scold me for accidentally touching their fins or doing freestyle instead of stroke and here was this woman, on our first meeting, already intimately acquainting me with the size of her breasts.
“Yes, these don’t help me much in the run,” she said looking down at her boobage and then looking back up to me. I am not looking, I am not looking, I thought to myself, must not look at the boobs. “Unless you like big things flopping in your face the whole time,” she said.
Catching a sneaky look at her chest, I did some quick calculations trying to imagine them four times smaller and still came up with something pretty big. Suddenly, I felt criminal and looked the other way.
“Of course, these days I don’t go running unless I wear three jog bras,” she confessed, motioning on her chest in the form of putting on three jog bras. Three jog bras? Imagine the logistical nightmare – three bras to wear, three bras to wash, thrice as many bras to have in your drawer.
I wasn’t sure what reply would cross the line between appropriate and inappropriate or if it was just best not to say anything at all. After all, there was Double D looking right at me and I staring back at her with Triple A. Turn away, I said to my own chest, turn away, do not stare the Double D’s directly in the eye. Sheepishly, I just smiled.
“Yes, me and running just don’t get along these days,” she concluded – I think, I hoped, there had to be an end. I looked around for someone else that might be joining our lane, or some inclination from the coach that the workout absolutely had to begin, or some way to distract her from her boobological assessment.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to say. I never had big boobs and had no idea how it felt to carry them around day to day. Or what it felt like to limit my activities because of them. And so I did my best by saying, “well, I guess those are the hazards of big boobs that you never really think about.” She chuckled, politely, and then took off the lead the lane.
As she swam off, I smiled a sinister grin. Well, well, well, I thought. Small-breasted women of the world unite. And it’s about damn time. I have finally found the forum in which small breasts are the advantage and not the disadvantage. For years, I mourned the oh-so-smallness of my chest hoping they would have a late bloom or sudden burst into at the very least a full B-cup but what was left behind were just the remnants, the bare minimum. And now, in my world of swim-bike-run, there is a place, though small as it may be, for even the teeny tiniest of us all – on the run.
This is the best news I’ve heard all day. Finally, having less of something is more. Having the undesired is desirable. Being small actually counts for something big. Ask yourself what are the hazards of having small boobs? None, really, none. They’ll never slap me in the face, or weigh me down, or grow so unwily it would take several bras to reign them in. The best part about is that this doesn’t work in reverse. I’d never have to say I can’t swim because my boobs are too small or I can’t cycle anymore because it barely takes one bra to hold them down.
I had always suspected that big boobs were not worth their weight. Once you ween the babies off, there’s no other biological function for their large size. Other than entertainment value. Or an ornamental purpose. But I would imagine that after awhile they become just like any other load you have to carry around. Like a backpack, if you will. But you can’t take the pack off. And it’s hanging right in front of your face.
In an epiphany, what had just become very clear to me is that the half empty jog bra filled with my half pint sized chest is not half empty but actually half full. And the other half can be nicely filled out with car keys, heart rate monitors, gloves, dollar bills, or even MP3 players. Forget a Fuel Belt, I’ve got the most handy half-full carrying case permanently secured to my own chest. In fact, storing gels in my jog bra is part of every one of my long course race plans. There’s room in there for at least three gels, one full bar, plus all the empty packages as well. Unloading the bra at each aid station is something you’ll see me doing in every half-Ironman. Who needs a Bento Box when you’ve got small boobs?
Suddenly I snap out of it these realizations and realize I am standing in cold water, not running on a trail, and my body reminds me that lean, late-in-life learned swimmers have no place in this pool. Small feet, small hands, muscle mass – all not helpful in the world of water sports. Looking around the pool, I wondered if there were other limiting bodily factors. Does this go beyond boobs? Is there safety in short legs, small feet, tiny hands? Scanning the other lanes, I noticed an assortment of body shapes and sizes. Long and lean, short, fit, skinny, plump, and even a few tugboats. With each of them I wondered if their body held them back or got in the way.
Chest aside, there are certainly ways the rest of my body gets in the way with sports other than swimming. I don’t have the legs for a long jump or the height to shoot hoops or the eye hand coordination to hit a ball. I’m a disaster when it comes to dancing and rock climbing is just an embarrassment. Gymnastics always went well until I had to go backwards – I just don’t bend that way. And soccer – if you can believe it I was once on a soccer team and probably spent most of my time running from the ball rather than running with it. Miraculously I was good at tennis but swinging at a golf ball was a different story – unless you count putt-putt. Then again who can’t play putt-putt. There are so many ways our bodies can limit us that it makes me wonder how our bodies can permit us to do anything at all.
What I do seem to have permission for is running. A sport that favors the small-boned, small-chested. A sport that required no equipment, no tactics, no plan. Just one foot in front of the other. And of all the things I tried, it’s actually one of the few things I enjoy. It’s one of the few things I actually seem designed to do. And so it makes sense that I took that success and – pardon the pun – ran with it.
But today I wasn’t running, I was in the pool and it was time for my swim. Ann led the warm-up, coasting effortlessly up and down the lane, freestyling, backstroking, and – how appropriately – breaststroking. And she was fast. Her backstroke was faster than my freestyle and I made my way painstakingly down the lane on my back while she glided nearly a lap already ahead of me. Then again, she had two highly buoyant, inflatable rafts planted on her chest which made me think we was perfectly designed to stay afloat in the water and glide right through.
And as I watched her zip along underwater, I thought to myself that there was a fine example of a women taking what she could be good at and running (or swimming) with it. Seeing that made me more grateful for the things I seemed to be designed to do with similar ease and grace. There are so many times I have wished I could do something better or master a new skill. Maybe the key is just to be satisfied with what I can do and stop beating myself up for everything I can’t seem to do. And I’m not suggesting you stop trying to do new things, but chances are there is someone out there longing to do what comes so easily to you.
Perhaps it’s best to find happiness and satisfaction in what you can already do rather than always hoping for more. Appreciate those long legs, or small chest, or big feet. When you find happiness in what you can do and who you are, you become more relaxed and content. You are more confident and satisfied with yourself. And perhaps in finding satisfaction in yourself and being more relaxed you will find it easier to master the next new thing.
And so the next time I am in a long course race and reach into my jog bra for a gel, I’ll remember that it’s not half empty but rather half-filled and one hundred percent fully functional. And with that I am satisfied. If only I had known years ago that this small chest would lead to a world of big opportunities, I might have spent less time longing for what I would probably never have.
So take stock in what you have – and disregard what you don’t have. Chances are that who you are and how you were designed has led to countless opportunties that others can only dream about. For that, I am grateful. Leave it to cleavage to teach me this lesson, leave it to cleavage.